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Family Tree (2010)

L'arbre et la forêt (original title)
When Frédérick, the patriarch of the Alsatian Muller family, is conspicuously absent from his son Charles' funeral, Frédérick's surviving son and his granddaughter, raw from their loss, ... See full summary »

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Cast overview:
Guy Marchand ...
Frédérick Muller
Marianne Muller
Delphine Muller
Yannick Renier ...
François Négret ...
Guillaume Muller
Françoise Muller
Sandrine Dumas ...
Élizabeth Muller
Pierre-Loup Rajot ...
Charles Muller
Nicole Maufrais ...
Serge Maufrais ...
Léa Henry ...
Enfant 1
Maxim Henry ...
Enfant 2
Julia Housard de la Potterie ...
Enfant 3
Eric Larzat ...
Le notaire


When Frédérick, the patriarch of the Alsatian Muller family, is conspicuously absent from his son Charles' funeral, Frédérick's surviving son and his granddaughter, raw from their loss, await an explanation. Once revealed, Frédérick's reasons and the painful secret Charles harbored for years threaten the foundations of the entire family. Written by Los Angeles Film Festival

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis




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Release Date:

3 March 2010 (France)  »

Also Known As:

Der Baum und der Wald  »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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User Reviews

The melody of justice
18 September 2010 | by (Greece) – See all my reviews

Ducastel and Martineau, after the ideologically dubious sleight of "Born in '68", deliver the masterpiece I may have witnessed. Perhaps not since "My life in Rouen", have they articulated such a just, vehement testimony; though here one can change that into testament.

It proceeds something like this: Enter a rancorous familial scene after the burial of a son. The other son bursts out because the father has not attended his brother's funeral. The father's demeanor remains restrained for most of the film. It is only later, again at a family gathering that he will deliver his truth - that is that his son has forbid his attending to the future funeral. He unravels the circumstances, he gives his unabashed opinion on his dead son who despised him on the grounds of the father's homosexuality now disclosed, and despite his being in a concentration camp.

A tree in the midst of the mansion's front space gradually informs us, planted by the father when he was young. A tree just among the plentiful of other trees he has planted randomly in the surrounding forest, now gradually botched, informing the heirloom distributed between the frustrated son and a flawed and luminous grand-daughter.

The film, partaken between unflinching slices of familial outpourings and surprising music, is anchored in the figure of the father who may seem too stern and polemic in relation to the circumstances. But what are the circumstances? From the opening scene on the tone encountered is a precise rendering, in musical terms, of the difference between ostinato rigore and sostenuto. I will gradually return to what I mean by surprising music.

The father every morning has the habit of listening to Wagner, to the detriment and casual acceptance of the family; this is charming. From the first time this happens on screen it counterpoints what misgivings we may have about such a stern figure, and it is followed throughout, for he stands outside ideology, if by that we mean the usual portrait of someone having a flaw that humanizes him despite the circumstances: he avows his circumstances, he does nothing but that, and it may seem off-putting, but think, he is the - exemplary in a way - counter-example of the obscene father who wants all pleasure for him, courtesy of Freud's myth of the primordial father. This kind of father demonstrates the modern difficulty of a humanely humane father, strained as he is in a specific kind of mourning, though he is not abandoned to it: his thrust throughout remains his family, how by the dimension of talking he delivers his symbolic mandate. And how he distributes it, because at a pivotal moment, after the uninformed questioning of his motives by his grand-daughter, that is if he is not liquidating his past by handing down the forest he half-installed, and since it has the significance of trees being "the only sensible beings he encountered while he was in the camp", he retorts that he wants to escape just that, being reduced to that kind of past. How also he loves his wife despite his sexual preference; I appreciated the way this was communicated: a scene where he just combs her hair and their gazes in the mirror luxuriate in peace shared. And that is that, exemplary in its economy of intimacy. Ducastel and Martineau's policy is not describing secrets; that would undermine their polemic music. They transform mourning into polemic, almost embarrassing a vulgar ecology.

So, let's go back to the music that achieves a not only retroactive kind of meaning when D. and M. offer us Mahler's enthusiasm in a long take of trees that lifts above the forest just when the music rises, not a recapitulation of perspective, rather its glorious opening up. Take along with this the moment when we listen to the adagio from Mozart's 23rd concerto and the grand-daughter pouts about her mother doing that on purpose, because she knew she would cry. This is against melodrama, for at the time she is in the hands of her lover and the embrace resonates, we pass from the sad melody to the endearing, playful introduction of the winds. This is accurate, and takes all soundtrack moments in the film beyond commentary, beyond repression, as with the Zauberfeuer music from Wagner's Walkyre in front of the elderly couple in a moment of fearful storm watching the familial tree, as it dissolves from their son's ghostly curse attracting thunder to the perennial whiteness of the South Pole. The music is brought to a halt, and the scene changes unflinchingly to the last act when the contracts are signed. This is as adult and economic as one may hope for one's sentiments. We may have to catch up to it, since the film is so packed with musical justice I dare say, so that when in the end credits we have a briefing into matters of acknowledgment by the French State of homosexual deviates during WWII, this is not programmatic, not ideological, but rightfully polemic, enlaced with again Wagner's music from the "Rheingold": this is the perfect pitch for music as just witness to our emotional pitch. The tree in the last shot branches up along with music's myth and with the aftertaste of the young generation half-acknowledging, amorously playing, nonchalantly entering into the house off-screen.

The tree and the forest marks what we see and what we are seen from in a stern and rhapsodic masterful manner. It is the best encounter I have had in a long time, a just revelation on how words have the epic, bonding dimension when adjusted to thousandfold music beyond the thousandfold darkness, as Paul Celan said when speaking of the 3rd Reich, when men have the charisma of going beyond the enemy's factuality ("No! The Nazis won't take Wagner away from me!"), and turning that into complex, unsentimental grace. A deep, polemical thank you.

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